Workplace language policy

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Sep 11 14:43:15 UTC 2006

September 10, 2006

Curses! Co-worker's vocabulary unbearable

By Hap Lecrone Cox News Service September 10, 2006

Dear Hap LeCrone: You have written columns on workplace stress, but I have
a topic that I don't think you have ever covered. I work closely with a
team of 10 people where good communication, mutual respect and personal
comfort are important. Several members of the team, including myself, feel
a lot of discomfort and stress because of the frequent profanity used by
one team member. His vocabulary is liberally laced with the f- and
s-words. It is not uncommon for him to "cuss out"  one of us when he is
unhappy. Our team leader recognizes the problem but tells those of us to
"get a life" because radio and TV shows are full of the language we are
opposed to. Could you please address this issue in your column? -- A
reader in New York.

Dear Reader: Workplaces have policies against discrimination and the use
of racial and ethnic slurs. Most prudent employers should also have a
policy dealing with workplace respect, which actively discourages frequent
profanity and offensive language, especially in situations like "cussing
out" a co-worker. Lack of respect often creates morale problems, which can
lead to other problems, including decreased productivity, distraction and
poor communication. Fighting in the workplace that leads to workplace
violence often begins with name calling, cursing and vulgar, offensive
language. Many, if not most, discrimination and sexual harassment claims
contain components that involve offensive language. This fact can make the
claim potentially stronger and can increase the employer's liability.
Perhaps the easiest and best way for your employer to handle this problem
is to provide written and verbal information to all employees that
promotes a comfortable, non-hostile and abuse-free work environment as
company policy. The use of unacceptable language can be addressed in team
building and training sessions to reinforce the company's position.
Employees who can't seem to get the message can be referred to someone,
such as an employee assistance counselor, who can assist them in changing
their behavior. Someone also needs to point out to your team captain the
obvious difference between offensive media language, where people have a
choice in programming, and offensive language in the workplace, where
switching channels is not an option. Curbing offensive language can go a
long way in helping promote a healthy work environment for employer and


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